Me, Mahad and Billy Penn




We were all supposed to go, but Damear and Lamarr came home early from school throwing up so it was just me and Mahddy. We rode the El from their house into Center City and took the tiny, rickety elevator up through clock innards to the big bronze feet of William Penn, at the top of Philadelephia city hall.

We weren't there for the 360 view. We were there to talk about the curse.

The Phillies were up 3-1 in the best of 7 world series. I had asked their mom Tahija to come but she she said wasn't getting up that high in no elevator we had already gotten her into the hot air zoo balloon and wasn't that enough?

We rode in that jerky, rusting-steel closet with a couple from out of town. They didn't know about the curse (how I knew they were from out of town), so I told them: for a long time Philly’s building code forbade the building of any structure higher than the hat on William's Penn's head. In 1983 Liberty One went up, way up, shadowing the venerable Penn. Starting that same year, no sports team in the city won a championship.

Probably just a coincidence, right? Probably, but being a Quaker, a Philadelphian, and most of all a magical thinker who came by it honest (from my leprechaun-spotting Galway grandfather) I thought - let me just go up and have a chat with that founder. And take the triplets with me.

So if the team does win the World Series you can take credit, someone said to me. No, so the boys can feel part of the winning, and of the city, and of Quakerism - which being my great-godchildren they already are.

But only Mahd got to come. But Mahd was enough! And I was glad to have him alone. His brothers tend to compete for center stage while he watches from behind the curtain. And if they’d been there he probably wouldn’t have said what he did.

I'd been imagining some sort of curse-curling ceremony since the last time the Eagles got close to the Super Bowl, but once there in the fisty October wind gazing up the long Quaker coat to Penn's (literally) chiseled profile, I wasn't sure what to say.

I felt strangely serious, as if there really might be a curse, as if a ten-year-old Muslim boy and a middle-aged Quaker lady might just be able to lift it.

But how? With feeling, I guessed – feeling and facts.

I explained that his city had needed the office space, to grow - no disrespect intended. I argued that 25 years was a wicked long time for a pacifist to hold a grudge. I said we needed to win the world series, or something -- the city had been feeling kind of, you know Bill, down, what with the highest homicide rate in the country and all.

When the elevator guy wearing the Phillies cap called us to get back in, Mahad finally spoke up.

Of all the three, he talks least, but when he does talk I listen. One time, about some fish of his dad’s (piranhas) that had died, he said, “They tried so hard to live!” And he named two pet guinea pigs Either and Or.

What he said this time was simple. He didn't discuss the curse, or baseball, or the hard times the city had seen. He just said, "Thank you, William Penn."

Just that. Like the big guy had already done what we wanted.

And maybe he had. Maybe it doesn’t take long to lift a curse. Or shift a mood. Or find hope. Maybe it doesn’t take long at all.

Photo of Mahddy by my cousin Tommy (Thomas A. Farragher)
City Hall photo by Kris-chan